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Council considers bylaws to tackle begging

A BEGGING problem in Gisborne has meant that cruise ship passengers have been among those approached for money. Although there is a bylaw against begging the District Council is limited in what it can do about it.

The situation produced conflicting views at yesterday’s meeting of the environmental planning and regulations committee between those who wanted to see action taken and others who wanted a more compassionate approach.

Alan Davidson raised the issue and he referred to a number of emails that had been circulating among councillors.

He said he personally had been approached by beggars and it was an issue, and he wondered if the council had power to deals with it.

There was a need for a bylaw and to enforce it. Auckland City Council had bylaws in relation to begging.

Enforcement manager Jim Single said there was a section in the public places bylaw saying no one could beg or cajole money from a passerby.

“It is a breach of our bylaw to beg, but the definition of begging is cajoling,” he said.

“What we have got is people sitting on the street with a hat out in front of them not saying a word with the intention that you are going to throw something in it.

“It is not a good look, it seems to be becoming more prevalent but it is not technically a breach of the bylaw."

If there were a bylaw the only way to enforce it would be by removing the nuisance, in certain circumstances physically, or prosecuting a person. That was a large cost and the people begging would not have the money to pay a fine for which the maximum penalty was $20,000. They would get convicted and discharged and it was probably not worth doing.

If staff could not issue an infringement on the spot there was very little they could do. It was a problem all around the country.

Mr Davidson said there were people out there who were physically approaching others, especially around the money machines, asking for money.

Asking for money breaches bylawMr Single said if anyone came up and asked for money they were in breach. City Watch staff would remove them but they would just go somewhere else. Police had been asked for help and they did move them on.

“They are particularly a problem when the cruise ships come in. We try to create a nice atmosphere for the CBD and it is not a good look if beggars are doing that.”

He himself had been approached twice in one day. Committee chair Pat Seymour said if they were moved on they would simply move a few blocks down the street. Mr Single said they would eventually just go around in circles.

Josh Wharehinga said the begging was behaviour arising from other things going on in their lives. It would be more strategic for the council to do other things than shooing them along. He was all for bylaws that actually kept people safe but there were other conversations that could be had.

Craig Bauld said they only did it because they made money. In other places people had signs saying “don’t feed the pigeons” but similar signs in this case would not really help anybody.

Begging a symptom of dysfunctionRehette Stoltz supported Mr Wharehinga saying begging was a symptom of something that was not functioning in someone’s life. There was a place for referring them to the appropriate services.

Lots might not be interested because they just wanted to make a quick buck for a beer but there were others who might be able to be treated in a kinder way.

Mr Single said they knew who the regulars were. They had been offered help and the weekly free lunch but they were not interested in receiving free food, they just wanted the money.

Mr Wharehinga said he actually served that food and that was not entirely true. Mrs Stoltz said being involved on the health board she heard many reports linking begging to mental health issues.

“I do think we should be kind in our thoughts on how we deal with this.”

Mr Davidson said “if the bylaw is there, let’s follow it though. I am more than happy to go to court to identify and give evidence.”

Meredith Akuhata-Brown said she was involved in the social sector sector and the struggle was that some people did not want help. They did this happily, it was their chosen life.

The council had to ensure the general public were aware that it heard their concerns such as some of these people urinating in shop frontages, but there were some things that were out of their hands.

File picture by Liam Clayton